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Rival parties claim victory in Macedonia election

December 12, 2016

Macedonia’s election results hung in the balance on Monday morning, with former prime minister Nikola Gruevski’s ruling party holding a narrow lead over the leftwing opposition but both claiming victory.

With 98 per cent of votes counted by early Monday morning, the conservative VMRO DPMNE party had 37.9 per cent compared with 36.6 per cent for Zoran Zaev’s SDSM — a result election observers said was too close to call.

Analysts said the complex electoral system meant each party could end up with about 51 seats in parliament, making kingmakers of several smaller ethnic Albanian groups. Sixty-one MPs are required for a governing majority.

“Macedonia is unlikely to exit its current crisis regime any time soon,” said Jasmin Mujanovic, a political scientist.

Sunday’s election came after nearly two years of EU-mediated efforts to defuse a political crisis that erupted when Mr Zaev leaked taped phone conversations allegedly revealing misdeeds by the government and its intelligence services.

An EU investigation of the recordings reported evidence of “apparent direct involvement of senior government and party officials in electoral fraud, corruption, abuse of power and authority, conflict of interest, blackmail, extortion and criminal damage.”

Zoran Zaev, leader of the opposition SDSM party, celebrates after early results © EPA

The crisis continued to churn in 2015, stirred by an opposition boycott of parliament, mass demonstrations and 18 deaths in a shootout in the town of Kumanovo. The circumstances of the lethal incident remain disputed.

The conflict coincided with the inflow of more than 1m asylum seekers into Europe last year — many of them passing through Macedonia, an aspiring EU member. That placed Brussels in an awkward position as officials pressed accountability on the Skopje government, while at the same time leaning on it to halt the migrant inflow.

A Brussels-backed special prosecutor was appointed to investigate the allegations of government abuses in a country once considered a role model for political and economic reforms in former Yugoslav republics.

But President Gjorge Ivanov in April angered international mediators by issuing pre-emptive pardons for dozens of politicians under investigation by the prosecutor — including Mr Gruevski.

The pardons sparked mass demonstrations that became known as the “colourful revolution” and were eventually revoked following warnings from Brussels, which reported in November that the country had undergone “state capture”.

In the early hours of Monday morning Mr Gruevski reassured supporters of victory as he attributed a rise in support for his opponents to votes from the country’s ethnic Albanian minority.

“VMRO-DPMNE is the winner in these elections,” he said in a televised address. “This is the tenth victory for the party.”

Supporters of VMRO DPMNE celebrate after early results © EPA

Mr Zaev had earlier told supporters celebrating outside government headquarters that while he would await final confirmation, his leftwing SDSM party was assured of victory.

“We overthrew this regime by voting with the stroke of pen,” Mr Zaev said.

Despite western efforts to inspire reform, media balance and dialogue, the former Yugoslav country’s politics have remained bitterly polarised — in the final days of the election campaign Mr Gruevski told supporters that in earlier times, a revolutionary assassin famed for his lethal dagger would have been sent to “end the story” with his opponent.

However, aside from a small number of minor incidents at polling stations, Aleksandar Chichakovski, head of the State Electoral Commission, said the vote had taken place in a “calm and peaceful atmosphere, without irregularities”.

Andreja Stojkovski, senior analyst at Skopje think-tank the Macedonian Centre for European Training, said parliament would have 20 days to convene once results were confirmed. President Ivanov will then have three days to give a mandate to lead government formation talks to the leader of the party with the most MPs.

Official results are expected later on Monday morning.

Via FT